Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Turkey: The Cradle of Western Christianity

Written by Mr. Klaas Pikkert
After retiring as a teacher from Hamilton and District Christian High School, Mr. Klaas Pikkert and his wife moved to Istanbul, Turkey to work as volunteers to set up a highschool for missionary children. The Pikkerts are members of the Hamilton Free Reformed Church. They plan to live in Turkey for about two years and submitted the following report to the Messenger.
This country has had a dozen great cultures, of which much still can be found in the form of old walls, buildings, excavations, etc. The Hittites, Persians, Greeks and the Romans left their visible marks everywhere. It is a paradise for people interested in history. Visit the cities where the apostle Paul worked and lived: Tarsus, Antioch (Antakya), Pamphilia, Iconium, Lystra, Ephesus or Pergamus. Wander around the area of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. A beautiful boat trip from Istanbul brings you to Nicea (Izmik). Stay a little longer and visit Capadocia, an area that used to be a thriving Christian community. Its rock-hewn churches are a unique form of art. In the seventh century the Arab armies swept through these areas and the Christians retreated into their caves, closing the entrance with big stone rolling wheel doors, all of which are still there.

However, not much is left of the Christian faith. A city called Trabson, which has a population of about 300,00, including hundreds of outlying mountain villages, some consisting of just two or three houses, was once the city of many Greek and Armenian believers. Many church buildings can still be found there. On the day of Pentecost there were observes from Pontus, the region around and including Trabson, on the Black Sea coast. Aquila (Acts 18:2) was a native of Pontus. It was at one time called the city with a thousand churches. Now you can call it a city with a thousand mosques. There are two Christian churches open to the public as tourist attractions. Other churches have been converted into mosques, warehouses and barns. One well-known church, complete with medieval fresco's, is used to store hay. Several others are still intact but boarded up.

Turkey has become 99% Muslim and wherever you are: at home, on the street or in bed, five times a day you hear the call to prayer from the loudspeakers on the minarets of the mosques all over the country. Visiting a mosque is an interesting experience. There are no pews, only rugs to kneel on, for a mosque is a place to pray. Always remove your shoes before stepping on the mosque's carpet. Worshippers kneel and touch their foreheads to the carpet. Wear modest clothes, don't wear tatty blue jeans, shorts or weird gear; wear skirts preferably to the knees. If your clothing does not meet a minimum standard, an attendant will lend you a long robe.

However, here in Turkey, life just goes on as if there was no call to prayer. Don't expect the people running to the mosque every time they are called to prayer.

The eastern part is not as well developed as western Turkey. It is the land of Mount Ararat and it is here where you see fewer tractors in the fields. Instead of grain harvesting machines, you might come across farmers threshing and winnowing in the ancient manner.

At least 15 million Kurds live in south-eastern Turkey. Among them are nationalists, who fight for an independent Kurdistan. The tension between the Kurds and the Turkish government is red-hot at the moment. About 800 small villages have been evacuated, bombed or destroyed by the Turkish army and more than 12,000 Kurdish women, children and men have fled back to Iraq to escape the sufferings and trying to find some peace in the country they fled from three years ago during the Gulf War with Sadam Hussein. It is devastating to hear the stories of these people. Sometimes three or more people in one family are shot--even little innocent children.

The rate of inflation in Turkey is very high--about 130%. The interest rate chargee by the banks is more than 100%. In the spring a couple could live off one salary, but now they just can pay the rent of their apartment. Prices have doubled, but the salaries almost stayed the same. As a result there are more and more beggars on the streets and children who try to sell you a glass of water, who want to polish your shoes, or try to tell you your weight for a few pennies with an old bathroom scale. Some of them are as young as five or six years old.

Why did this beautiful country with such a wonderful heritage--the cradle of Western Christianity--become a Christian museum, where churches have become remodelled mosques, tourist attractions or storerooms? If, as it said, history repeats itself,* then we in North America better watch and pray we don't end up the same way.

*Editor's Note: The history of Turkey and the present-day conditions as described by Mr. Pikkert are tangible evidences of what happens when Christ's warnings to the churches are not heeded. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Rev.2:11,17,29, etc.).

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